After meeting with Lieutenant Sharr, Raea and Palan returned to their room with Cleo and Emergency Victuals in tow. The night passed uneventfully and the next day came, heralded by the red rays of sunlight streaming through the window. Raea sighed as she got out of bed and started to change. Cleo tilted her head at her. The lizardman’s words were garbled when she spoke and yawned at the same time, “You seem worried.”
“I am not,” Raea said as her armor clinked. Owen had polished it for her yesterday, giving the silver armor a mirror polish. “It’s just … I’ve never had to give a report to a superior before, so I’m practicing in my head.”
Palan frowned as he approached the closet after Raea finished using it. “What happened to my armor?” he asked as he pulled out a black cuirass. He tapped his knuckles against it and furrowed his brow before attempting to bite the metal. Raea pulled it away from his mouth before he could.
“I had Owen request you a new set,” she said. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for you to continue to use one of our deceased’s.” Palan didn’t respond so Raea bit her lip before continuing to speak. “I specially asked for them to paint it black. I hope you don’t mind. I thought you’d like it more, since you didn’t want to wear the white armor during the night while you were … visiting the lizardmen city.” Raea fidgeted as she waited for Palan’s response.
“I’m not going to thank you for this,” Palan said, his eyes slightly narrowed. He undid the clasps and began to put the armor on over his bare chest.
“Naturally,” Raea said with one corner of her lip turned upwards. She stepped behind him and helped him fit his greaves. Palan stared at her as she tightened a strap. “We are partners after all, and honestly, I don’t think I could’ve made it this far without your help. I should be the one thanking you.” She took a step back and observed the armor.
Raea smiled at Palan who was testing the range of motion. He seemed to be at a loss of what to say, so he grunted and nodded instead. Cleo repeatedly shifted her gaze between the two who had their eyes locked. She tilted her head. “Now kiss?”
“What?” Raea asked and whirled her head towards Cleo. “No! We’re not like that.”
Cleo frowned as she stroked her scaly chin with her claws. “But when a female gives a gift of armor or weapons to a male, that means she’s courting him,” she said. “That’s what my papa told me.” Her tail swished behind her, thumping into Emergency Victuals’ belly.
“We’re not lizardmen. Angels send letters of courtship to the ones they’re interested in,” Raea said as she shook her head and sighed. She faced Palan. “Why don’t you say something to her too?”
Palan turned towards Cleo. “If someone tries to kiss you,” he said and paused as he furrowed his brow. Cleo and Raea waited with bated breaths. Two seconds passed before Palan’s expression relaxed and he nodded. “Stab them first. Chances are they want something from you and have poison on their lips. I’ve seen it happen too many times.”
“That’s a bit,” Raea said and hesitated. She bit her lip. “Bleak? Pessimistic?” She shook her head and pulled the door open. “Let’s stop talking about this and go. Everyone’s probably waiting for us.” She left the room with Palan following after her while Emergency Victuals scrambled to its feet. Cleo sat on top of the wolf’s back.
“They’re kinda boring, huh?” Cleo said as she held onto the wolf’s neck. The dire wolf probably wouldn’t have replied even if it could. “They barely even reacted. Maybe I should … nah, that’d be mean.”
Raea and Palan arrived at the stables with their helmets under their arms. Owen was already inside, saddling the horses. Carmella and Gerome arrived soon after. The corner of Owen’s lips turned down as he looked at Raea while coming out of the stable with a horse. “Did something happen?”
“No?” Raea asked back. “Why?”
“Nothing,” Owen said and shook his head. “It must have been my imagination.” Cleo was biting her lip, looking as if she wanted to desperately say something. She sighed before shaking her head. As if sensing something, the dire wolf looked up and licked her face.
“It is finally time to return back after completing our mission,” Raea said to Gerome and Carmella as she took the reins that Owen handed her. “I am curious. Why did you two choose to follow me? Surely you must have heard the rumors about the lizardmen city.”
Gerome scratched his head. “Well, I was there for the raid against the king of the forest,” he said. “A lot of missions have been dangerous recently, and I thought it’d be better to follow someone who may be a bit inexperienced but cares for her subordinates rather than someone who’ll throw his subordinates away to accomplish the mission. Right?” He turned his head towards Carmella.
Carmella nodded. “I agree.”
Raea lowered her head. “I seem to have failed many of my subordinates in that regard,” she said. “There are only five of us left out of forty-six.”
“You managed to succeed in a mission that had a one hundred percent fail and death rate,” Carmella said. “I think that says something about you. And it does not say anything about being a failure. Many soldiers would be willing to follow you after this.”
Raea hummed. “Perhaps you two are right. Do you think I could go to the third sector?”
Gerome raised an eyebrow. “You just got here,” he said. “You want to leave already? You’d have to ask Captain Ishim; he many not want to lose you after you achieved the impossible.”
“There is no need to rush,” Owen said as he returned with more horses. “It has not even been a month since we left the capital.”
“I’ve been wondering,” Palan said as he mounted his horse and faced Owen. “The capital is a place free of sin. Why weren’t you kicked out earlier? You obviously have anger issues.”
Owen frowned. Raea was about to speak, but Owen placed his hand in front of her. “Every family is issued one seal,” he said. “It can seal away the power of any sin and it was used on me. I volunteered to leave the capital when Lady Raea’s sins were exposed so the Caelum family could seal her instead, but the seal only works on a single sin. Not two.” Raea pursed her lips.
“Makes sense,” Palan said.
Raea sighed. “Let’s go,” she said and steered her horse towards the northern gate. Her back seemed smaller than usual as she led the way.